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After the Joys of Summer Are Gone

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 18, 2005; Page C02


Designers have finally gotten tired of putting on a happy face. A dark mood lurked over the recent fall 2005 shows -- one that was manifested in gloomy colors, heavy fabrics, austere silhouettes and an intellectualized concept of romance.

The designer Marc Jacobs was the most outspoken in his shift to pensive from pretty. His collection for fall was in sharp contrast to the bright colors, whimsical flourishes and manageable shapes that he offered for spring. For fall, his colors turned murky and mossy, his shapes exploded in volume. These are clothes in which one could take refuge. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that a mother could hide herself and two small children in the folds of one of his woolen skirts. Jacobs's collection caused a good deal of opinionated chatter among those who attended his presentation. There was the sense that Jacobs had done an about-face. He had ditched all of the sweetness and good-cheer that had come to define his work and traded it in for something that was at times cozy and occasionally gruesome. Indeed, several of the floral doll dresses reminded one of costuming straight out of a horror movie, like something worn by a cross-dressing Chuckie.

Donna Karan's collection had suggestions of romance, but not of innocence and expectation. Gone were the splashed rhinestones and glitter of previous collections, in favor of a more world-weary look. (Maria Valentino - For The Washington Post)

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When one was not having visions of being hacked to death by a doll, it was easy to find reassurance in Jacobs's sensibility. The clothes may not have been practical or reasonable, but there was comfort in their honesty. They seemed to reflect the cultural mood -- one of worry, caution, fear, pessimism -- rather than act as a desperate antidote to it. Instead of insisting that folks smile in the face of their concerns, Jacobs offers a security blanket. Dark humor is often more comforting than false laughter.

Donna Karan's collection had problems similar to those in Jacobs's line; many of the silhouettes simply didn't make practical sense. But the mood was right. In the roughed-up blouses and the crushed taffeta evening gowns, there were suggestions of romance, but not the kind defined by innocence and boundless expectation. These clothes spoke of romance found after at least one broken heart and after more than a few Match.com dates that did not go according to plan. "You said you were 6-2!" "You said you weren't fat!" They drink heavily before calling it a night.

For the last few years, designers have spent much of their time thinking of new ways to make clothes sparkle. They have splashed rhinestones and glitter on cardigans, dresses, handbags and shoes. Skirts were cut in an A-line silhouette and covered in cheerful patterns to stir a sense of perky girlishness. There were pencil skirts and jackets with bracelet sleeves that suggested a kind of louche glamour. There was much talk about the "naughty secretary" look and there was very little doubt about what Girl Friday did on Saturday night that gave her such a spotty reputation.

Those clothes put smiles on the face of a lot of shoppers. Many of the clothes for fall will not do that. Instead, they will offer consumers something to think about. Designers such as Jeffrey Chow and Peter Som found their inspiration in stark and brooding filmmaking. Chow churned out a collection that was stern and reserved. There were popcorn knit sweaters and conservative dresses and not much that would elicit a giggle, much less a smile.

Som was inspired by a film about missing children. That is not the kind of creative source that leads one to design clothes bursting with floral prints or plunging necklines. And Tomer Gendler created a line of menswear inspired by postwar Europe. He envisioned a land of homeless people, moving about with only the clothes on their back -- some of the garments precious, some of them banal. All of them dark.

Designers such as Bryan Bradley at Tuleh turned a rather mean and destructive eye on uptown style, lining a luxurious coat in a camouflage print and fraying the edges of his chiffon dresses. At Phi, the collection backed by Susan Dell and designed by Andreas Melbostad, the clothes were essentially all black and dotted with brass studs. And at Calvin Klein, designer Francisco Costa painted an exquisite scene of tailored suits, mod coats and spare dresses in hues dominated by black and gray.

In the past, designers have allowed shoppers to indulge in avoidance, denial and a philosophy of fiddle-dee-dee tomorrow is another day. For fall, they are not advocating pessimism. But they are suggesting a bit of realism.

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